If ever a game illustrated what winning takes to Dublin captain Lyndsey Davey, it was last year’s gut-wrenching All-Ireland final defeat to Cork, when maybe some of the Dublin players allowed their eyes drift towards the prize. Now fighting fires off the field, Davey won’t be fazed when Cork turn up the heat tomorrow...
During the summer, shortly before she started training to become a firefighter, Lyndsey Davey and the Dublin team she captains were training out in DCU when they suddenly heard and then saw a teenager shrieking in distress.
While trying to mount the fence to join some buddies for a game of soccer on the adjoining field, he’d managed to impale his arm.
He was in agony, shock, and serious trouble too only for who happened to be on the next pitch.
Gregory McGonigle is not just a Derryman living in Belfast that manages Dublin. He’s a Derryman living in Belfast who also works in Monaghan as a bar manager for one of Seamus ‘Banty’ McEnaney’s premises. You encounter and deal with all kinds of sticky situations in a job like that and being calm and level-headed is invariably the best way to respond to them.
Davey had just completed an occupational first aid course. The day job was in Croke Park, working in the financial department of the GAA, but ever since she was a child, watching the likes of Fireman Sam on the telly, she’d an instinct for wanting to help people that needed help. Now she’d act on it.
“He had a massive gash in the back of his arm,” she recalls. “But he hadn’t seen it and how severe it was, and my job was to just sit him down, ask him a lot of questions, communicate with him to help takes his mind off it.”
As the team physio treated the wound, Davey softly commanded his eyes and attention. What was he studying? What did his parents do? What were his favourite sports, his favourite team? By engaging him she relaxed him.
A little while later the kid was taken to hospital. McGonigle would keep in touch with him and could later report to Davey that while he’d require a lot of stitches and a further operation, he was doing alright.
So when you ask Davey why she gave up a day job in the dream place of Croke Park to take up a job as potentially dangerous as hers, she says helping someone and the buzz that gives her outweighs the risks to herself.
She’s seven weeks in now training to be a firefighter with the Dublin Airport fire service, with seven more to go. She was the only female recruited in a class of 16, but then she has always been something of a groundbreaker.
She was just 14 when she made her debut for Dublin. That’s right: 14. She wonders and doubts how a kid that age would survive now in the inter-county game with such a premium on strength and conditioning, but she did, coming on in an All Ireland quarter-final replay against Donegal to set up the winning goal for Angie McNally.
The following season, 2005, she’d win an All Star. To this day there has never been a younger All Star.
So though she just turned 26 last month, she’s one of the team’s veterans as well as stars now.
Last winter that status hit home all the more. A wave of senior players retired: Sinead Aherne, who’d scored 2-7 in the glorious All-Ireland final win against Tyrone back in 2010; Lindsay Peat who’d scored two goals only last September in the All-Ireland final against Cork; 2010 captain Denise Masterson; Siobháin McGrath; Team of the Decade goalkeeper Cliodhna O’Connor.
Ask Davey if she was concerned with so many big-name departures on the back of losing last year’s All-Ireland final in such a spectacular and devastating manner and she says she was more saddened. “I grew up playing with all those players.” Most of them were there when she played her first All-Ireland back in 2004, let alone when she won her first and only one in 2010.
There’s a motto though that the group adopted towards the end of the year. All In. An American motivational speaker Gian Paul Gonzalez introduced them to it, having preached the same message to the New York Giants in a talk that would transform that franchise’s 2011 season, taking them all the way to the Superbowl podium.
McGonigle had dropped an email last summer, looking maybe for a letter he could pass on to the Dublin ladies. Gonzalez flew from Philadelphia out of his own pocket to speak to them the morning of the men’s All-Ireland final; two tickets to Kerry-Donegal and being put up for the night was more than enough for him.
He told them what he’d told the Giants. About the mindset that goes with pushing all your poker chips forward and declaring, ‘All In.’
When the Giants had reflected upon it, too many of them were only putting in 90% effort to the cause. He gave them all a poker chip, just like he’d give all the Dublin team. Were they giving everything they had? The way they attacked Cork for 45 minutes the following week in building up a 10-point lead suggested they were. But with other things like travel and marriage on the agenda, those players had the honesty to admit they couldn’t be all in to a setup that now demanded nothing less.
Gonzalez popped back over to them last month a couple of days ahead of the All-Ireland quarter-final against Monaghan, en route back to talking to high-profile European clients such as Arsenal.
“I’ve seen a lot of top speakers in my time,” says McGonigle, “from Liam Sheedy to Mickey Harte to Brian Cody, and this guy is just another level.” What he said to them, Davey or McGonigle don’t say, but maybe he told the story of Ray Lewis that he’s told other teams before.
Long before he became the most fearsome and dominant defensive player in American football, Lewis was a skinny nine-year-old son of a mother that was being physically abused by his stepfather. When he found his mother cowered in the hallway one day, dripping blood, he vowed to be strong enough to protect her. He asked her to buy him a deck of cards. So when she did he retreated into the garage that qualified as his bedroom at the time and flipped the deck up. If a card was a seven, he’d do seven push-ups. If it was an ace, he’d do 25. If it was a joker, he’d do 50. Then he’d reshuffle and do the same with sit-ups. He was All In.
By the time he was a 13-time All Pro player with the Baltimore Ravens he was up to three decks. But when Lewis tells the story to anyone who gets daunted by the thought of turning up so many cards and doing so many sit-ups, he tells them to just focus on the next card. The rest takes care of itself.
Last September, Dublin forgot to zone in on just the next card. They were 10 points up with 12 minutes to go against Cork, and although Eamonn Ryan’s side had won eight of the previous nine All-Irelands and more than once over the years had come from well behind against that Dublin team to pip them, Davey will admit that perhaps some of them fast-forwarded to thinking what it would be like to have gone through the whole deck of cards.
“Maybe some players got a bit complacent,” she says, “and thought we had the game won.” They’d learned the hard way they hadn’t, to the point they’d lose, 2-13 to 2-12.
If ever a game illustrated the difference between winning and losing to Davey, it was that.
Cork were on the verge of being heavily beaten, humiliated even; Dublin, almost certain to be All-Ireland champions. Yet because of what transpired over those next 12 minutes, Cork would be honoured that winter as the RTÉ Team of the Year by a general public who had probably forgotten the identity of the team that they had staged their remarkable comeback against.
Davey will never forget, and how she felt that night in the banquet out in the Grand Hotel in Malahide. It was her third All-Ireland final defeat and the most devastating of the lot.
“In a way you’re lucky at all to be involved in an All-Ireland final. There’s been many years where I’ve been at the ladies final and wished I was out there. But to have put so much into a year and a game and come so close to winning it and then to lose, it’s heartbreaking.”
The winter months left them all with a lot of soul-searching. Key senior players couldn’t commit to being all in. McGonigle himself had to weigh up if there was an All-Ireland in what was left because if there wasn’t, he couldn’t be all in to travelling back and forth from Monaghan and Belfast three or four times a week.
But in the end he calculated there was. He’d taken the county U21s as well in 2014 and they’d won the All Ireland. In 2015 they’d win it again.
He’d blood players from those teams in the national league. In 2014, he’d favoured a settled side, more experienced players in a bid to reach an overdue league final. In 2015, the goal for that competition was simply to make the semi-finals; when Galway blitzed them by 12 points in Mullingar at that juncture he wasn’t duly concerned. The other calculation he made was selecting Davey as his captain. Long before any of them had heard about Gonzalez, she’d been an All In player. There’s no better person in the group to switch off and rest up: going kayaking or swimming with her boyfriend, or for a walk out in her native Skerries with her dog Holly, or calling up to her grandmother the day before the All-Ireland final and reading the Hunger Games to divert the brain from the battle and stress test ahead. But there’s no one better to do the extras either: diet, gym, shooting before and outside of training; she’s long led this group by example.
Last season on her way to winning a second All Star she’d rack up 5-16 in the championship, the kind of tally a Bernard Brogan would be happy with, but if anything her game more resembles Alan’s. She can play inside and she can play out in the half-forward line. She can be just as much a playmaker as a finisher.
In the quarter-final win over Monaghan, she’d play out on the three-quarters line as they’d say in those parts; McGonigle, having coached the Farney girls to a couple of All-Ireland finals in the past, calculating she’d be best deployed getting on the ball as often as possible and running at them.
The next day out against Armagh they moved her inside where she struck for a goal and two points.
“She seems to win balls that players don’t think she’s going to win,” says McGonigle.
“She leads the line that way. We felt with all the experienced players we lost over the winter, we needed a leader in our forward line and Lyndsey was the obvious choice.
“She has so much confidence in her own ability which is a massive thing. I would always look at a good captain, especially one that’s a forward, as someone who if they take a shot and it goes wide still believe they’ll make the next one. Lindsey is like that. A wide won’t faze her.”
Nor will a young lad getting impaled on a gate, or playing in front of a big crowd on a big day against the best team of all time, or literally being in the line of fire in the day job.
Whatever she’s at, she’s all in.
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